While people often jump into work as background actors because of the excitement of being involved in Hollywood, there’s more to being an extra than glamour or fame. As has been pointed out previously, being background is not for everyone. It requires long hours and lots of patience, and those who expect to be in camera’s focus will often find themselves disappointed. Unless you’ve landed the role of Featured Extra, more times than not, your face will be a blur in a sea with other background.
The important thing to keep in mind when entering this line of work is that it is, first and foremost, a job. You’re expected to show up, you’re expected to work, you’re expected to be responsible. If you’re running late for any reason, call and let someone know. If an emergency arises and you’re no longer able to commit, call and let someone know. Background are hired because directors expect people to be there to fill out scenes. If you can’t make it, casting needs notice so they can find someone else to take your spot.
If you’re scheduled for a 6am call time, you should be at base camp, filling out vouchers, by 6am. Even better is showing up 15-20 minutes earlier. But coming in at 6:05, 6:15, 6:30? That sets everyone behind, and starts the day out on a sour foot. Crew reserves the right to snap at you for being late. And you can guarantee your chances of getting hired back will drop.
Yes, there’s lots of down time in the 12+ hours you’re expected to be on set and ready to go. Sure, you’re more than welcome to bring a book, or join in a game of cards, or even take a nap as time allows.
However, when crew members have finished setting up the next shot, and the director calls for everyone’s attention at standby, background are expected to cooperate. It’s why they’re hired. That means, when the A.D. announces that cameras are “Rolling!” background puts down their books. They cease all conversation with their neighbours (at least until they hear the director say ‘cut’). They put away the cards and take their marks. They’re ready to go as soon as they hear ‘Action!’
It’s easy to forget, especially when filming scenes that involve parties, or being rowdy at a football game. But remembering that you’re there to work, and doing your job well, without complaint, are top of the list for ways to get hired back by a particular production, or to boost your reputation with casting companies for future films.
Several hours into a repetitive background scene will make everyone tired, grumpy, and ready for someone to call ‘lunch.’ That is especially true for crew members. If background are calm, patient, and most importantly cooperative, scenes will be finished much sooner, and to everyone’s delight.
And who knows, if everyone cooperates so superbly, the director might just wrap the day much sooner than otherwise.
Reliable background who care to do their job well are encouraged to set examples and hush those who think they’re simply earning an easy paycheque. But please do so respectfully. No one wants a riot.
What’s an extra?
How do background performers find work in New Orleans?
Creating your background profile for casting companies
What to expect on film sets
Standing out and standing-in